A week in family law: Weddings, adoption, financial remedies courts and more

The Chancellor’s announcement that the Government will ask the Law Commission to review the laws around weddings in England and Wales has been welcomed by the Law Commission. The Commission says that the project will look to propose options for a simpler and fairer system to give modern couples meaningful choice. In 2015 the Law Commission published a Scoping Paper outlining a range of problems with the outdated law which governs how and where people can marry, and says that the law is failing to meet the needs of modern couples. The law which governs marriage dates from 1836. The Commission says that the regulation of how and where weddings can take place is too restrictive for a modern Britain. Law Commissioner Professor Nick Hopkins commented:

“A couple’s wedding day is a profoundly important event in their lives. But the current law does not meet the needs of modern couples. Reform of the law would aim to make the law more flexible and give couples greater choice so they can marry in a way that is meaningful to them, whilst also lowering the cost of wedding venues. We therefore welcome the Government’s announcement and look forward to continuing our work in this area.”

It will be really interesting to see whether less restrictions will result in more couples getting married.

As promised by the outgoing President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, the pilot for the new specialist Financial Remedies Courts has been extended to eight other court centres. The new President, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has announced that he has given the ‘green light’ for the pilot to start working in each of these eight courts, at Nottingham, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, London, Newport and Swansea. Sir Andrew said: “In essence the new scheme is a ticketing and allocation regime designed to ensure that all Financial Remedy cases are case managed and heard by a suitably experienced judge. The positive reports of the operation of the Birmingham Pilot auger well for its replication elsewhere.” I suspect that it will not be long before the courts are rolled out across the whole of England and Wales.

As I reported here, Gloria De Piero, the Shadow Justice Minister, has pledged that if elected a Labour government would restore funding for early legal advice. She told MPs debating the future of legal aid that: “A Labour Government will return all funding for early legal advice, because we know that prevention is better than cure. We will re-establish early advice entitlements in the family courts, restore legal advice in all housing cases to protect 50,000 households a year against rogue landlords, and review the legal aid means test.” Hopefully, we will not have to wait until we have a Labour government before funding for early legal advice is restored. Certainly, there are many who have pushed for the government to make such a pledge when it completes its review of the effects of the legal aid cuts. The review is due to be published before the end of the year.

And finally, it has been reported by The Times that the number of adoptions has fallen sharply, as couples put off by the slow and complex legal process turn to IVF and surrogacy instead. This is no surprise, according to Cheryl Grace, a Senior Solicitor in Stowe Family Law’s Leeds office and part of Stowe’s specialist surrogacy and fertility law team. As she said, many couples would also prefer that they have a genetic link to their child, if possible. Despite these and other factors which may deter potential parents from choosing the adoption route, Cheryl expects that adoption will always have a place in family law, commenting: “For some people, it is their only means of having a family. For others, they are keen to give a child a chance for a happy life.” Well said.

Have a good weekend.

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